No One Knows What Chemicals are in Your Food

September 3rd, 2010 | Sources: Washington Post

Subjects:

Earlier this summer, dozens of people reported that their boxes of Foot Loops and Apple Jacks contained strange odors and tastes. Some complained of nausea and diarrhea after consuming the cereal. The complaints prompted Kellogg to recall 28 million boxes of the iconic breakfast treats.

Kellogg subsequently blamed the problem on elevated levels of 2-methylnaphtalene, while adding that its experts found “no harmful material” in the cereals.

2-Methylnaphthalene may not be harmful, but it’s hard to know for sure. The FDA has no information about its impact on human health. Neither does the EPA, even though it has been asking the chemical industry to provide health information about 2-methylnaphtalene since 1994.

The EPA made the request 16 years ago because the chemical was being produced in massive quantities and finding its way into dozens, if not hundreds of consumer products.

The cereal recall has refocused attention on huge gaps in Federal regulators’ knowledge about chemicals in consumer products including food, children’s toys and clothing. According to the Washington Post, regulators don’t know squat about “the health risks posed by most of the 80,000 chemicals on the market today.”

The knowledge gap can be traced to the 1976 passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act which exempted 62,000 chemicals, including 2-methylnaphthalene, from regulatory oversight and stipulated that chemicals developed since then need not be tested for safety. Instead, manufacturers were encouraged to volunteer information concerning the health effects of their compounds and required to hand-over any data showing that a chemical harms health.

That created an enormous disincentive for manufacturers to test their chemicals.

Congress is working on legislation that would require companies to undertake health and safety assessments of existing chemicals and prove that new ones are safe before using them. The chemical industry thinks such laws could hamper innovation and competitiveness.

Pizaazz thinks it’ll take a US version of China’s melamine scandal before this legislation makes it to the President’s desk.


 

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